Lesson 26: The Disciples Were Called Christians First in Antioch
Greetings! Welcome again to Acts 11 as we continue our study. This is Acts lesson # 26. In our last session we studied about the annexation of the Gentiles to God's kingdom. We were not told how many were baptized at the house of Cornelius but it is evident the number was considerably less than on Pentecost. Then we covered the session that Peter had when he got back to Jerusalem with the apostles and disciples where they charged Peter with impropriety. We are getting ready to read from v.19, if you haveyourN.T. open and your map close by. Let's read v. 19-20, "Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." Luke here gives us an update on church growth. You will recall the persecution recorded in Acts 8, right after Stephen was killed. "They that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.: Some traveled to Phoenicia according to v. 19. Phoenicia was a territory north of Samaria along the sea coast. It began a few miles north of Caesarea and continued up the coast of the Mediterranean for about 200 miles. It was a narrow strip of land only 30 or 40 miles wide. Some of the disciples that were forced to leave Jerusalem must have settled there. Cyprus, the second place mentioned in v. 19, is an island in the eastern Mediterranean, it's marked on your worksheet. You will recall this was the homeland of Barnabas, a disciple in Jerusalem whom we have met twice up to now. He's the disciple that was nicknamed "son of consolation" by the apostles. He sold a property and donated the money, you will recall in Acts chapter 4. He's also the disciple that assisted Saul by introducing him to the apostles and disciples at Jerusalem when he could not gain acceptance, that was in Acts 9?2w7. The other place mentioned in v. 19 is a city. Antioch is city #10 on your worksheet. It was located in Syria, north of Phoenicia. You may recall Nicolas, one of the seven appointed in Acts 6 was a proselyte of Antioch. The last part of v. 19 points out this was before the Gentiles were grafted in. Incidentally, "grafting in" is a figure of speech used by the apostle Paul to describe the Gentiles in Rom. 11. We find in v.21 here the disciples converted many people in Antioch. We learn from v.20 these were mostly Grecians, i.e. foreign Jews that spoke the Greek language. Some of the men who were teachers at Antioch had come from Jerusalem and were Grecians also. We are not given their names n v.20 but TOLD they were natives of Cypress and Cyrene. Cypress is the island in the Mediterranean we have already discussed and Cyrene is a city on the northern coast of Africa in the province of Cyrenaica or Lybia. Cyrene is city #11 on your worksheet. These Grecian men who had fled Jerusalem to teach and evangelize in Antioch, could conceivably have been some of those same men who did the murmuring that their widows were being neglected in Acts 6. You will recall that all the seven appointed to serve tables were evidently Grecian Jews. Did you notice the phrase used in v.21 to describe these conversions? "A great number believed, and TURNED unto the Lord." The word TURNED here follows belief. "Believed and turned." The word "turned" has reference to baptism. Do you recall the words of Peter in his sermon on Solomon's Porch? (Acts 3:19)? Repent...and be converted." There the acting or turning followed repentance. If pardon or remission of sins follow baptism then baptism is the turning act. The reason I keep drilling on this is: I want you to observe the terminology used and the way the early disciples thought. Let's read three more verses, v.22-23-24, let's read, "Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord." Now, I'll bet you didn't know the church has ears! See them ears there in v.22?? Just trying to keep you aware of the fact the church is the people (baptized believers). It's not a building. When the brethren at Jerusalem got the news of success in Antioch, they reacted just as they had done when they received the news of Philip in Samaria. They sent a faithful and trusted brother to hold a meeting and encourage them in the faith. They selected the "son of consolation" for this mission, Barnabas, the one who had quickly made friends with Saul in Acts 9. The words at the end of v.22, "that he should go as far as Antioch" indicates Barnabas preached to others, possibly in Phoenicia on the way. Since Barnabas was from Cyprus, he could have went there also. That could be the idea in v. 19. The extent of his travels and the order of his travel are not made clear. Barnabas' mission to the churches differed from that of Peter and John's mission to Samaria in that Barnabas could not pass on spiritual gifts as those apostles did so far as we know. Also, the grafting in of the Gentiles, starting at the household of Cornelius was NEW INFORMATION that need to be spread and explained to the brotherhood. I would assume THIS FACT helps to explain the actions taken by the apostles in v.22, "the church which was in Jerusalem...sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch." The last phrase in v. 19 makes it clear that the traveling teachers in these places were, "preaching the word to NONE but unto the Jews only." This would imply: the need for sending more missionaries at this stage was (partly at least) because of the new information concerning the annexation of Gentiles into the kingdom. Barnabas exhorted them all, according to v.23 when he arrived. This is the first time we have encountered the word "exhorted" in the book of Acts. The word means to advise earnestly and urge strongly. Thus, this tells the kind of preaching Barnabas did. Luke used a form of this word in describing Peter's sermon on Pentecost, "and with many other words did he testify and EXHORT, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation." Here Barnabas strongly urges and advises, "that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord." V.24 reveals that, "much people was added unto the Lord." Barnabas was a successful exhorted. Luke says he was a good man, and that agrees with the prior information given about this disciple. He was full of the H.S. and he was full of faith. Now v.25-26, let's read, "then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: and when he had found him, he brought him into Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." Barnabas had not forgotten his astute friend Saul, although their acquaintance before had been brief. It is possible they had communicated in the intrum, but this we are not told. Anyhow, he found Saul in his hometown of Tarsus. You will recall the brethren at Jerusalem sent Saul there after a threat was made on his life. Antioch and Tarsus are only about 100 miles apart as you might observe on your worksheet. Saul returned to Antioch with Barnabas to assist with the work in Antioch. It would be interesting to know how long Saul stayed in Tarsus and what he had accomplished and learned, but we are not told. Another thing that would be interesting here, would be to know Saul's state of knowledge concerning the Gentiles. I'm sure you remember in Acts 9:15 the Lord told Ananias, the disciple at Damascus, that Saul was "a chosen vessel...to bear my name before the Gentiles..." And others. But, what was Saul's state of knowledge with reference to the Cornelius case? Was he informed by the H.S. on this matter or did he hear it the first time from Barnabas. We don't know. Saul (or Paul) said in Gal. 1:16 he did not confer with flesh and blood to learn those things he taught. But whether that covers our question about the case of Cornelius and the grafting in of the Gentiles is doubtful. Barnabas and Saul worked together at Antioch for a whole year. It would appear that Barnabas came for a temporary stay to possibly hold a gospel meeting, encourage and exhort the brethren and return. But, perhaps
the success, and need and the prospect at Antioch, caused him to re-evaluate and stay a whole year. This team was very successful, "they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people." The church at Antioch became a strong body of saints. Luke points out that "the disciples were called "Christians" first in Antioch." This is the first time this word occurs in the N.T. Although, I have used the word "Christian" many times in this study and we use the word "Christian" to designate a disciple today, perhaps more often, than we use the word disciple. Luke points out that it was during that year, that Barnabas and Saul were preaching and teaching at Antioch, the word was first used and caught on. The word is used only two more times n the whole N.T., one more time in the book of Acts. Some think the word may have been coined by the enemies of the church first, possibly in derision. Someone has said we have a tenancy to can people today. There are Americans, Mexicans, and Africans, etc. So, I would assume they categorized people in the same way in those days, Syrians, Asians and Christians. At any rate, it described an acceptable relationship between Christ and his followers, and the word caught on. It was prophesied in Isa. 62:2 God's people would be called by a new name. But there it says the name shall come from the mouth of the Lord. And that refutes that it was given by the enemies of the church. O.K. v.27-30, let's read, "And in those days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch,. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul." The word prophet simply means a teacher although the word tends to connotate miraculous teaching with reference to the future. So, other teachers arrived from Jerusalem, more than one. V.28, relates how one of these teachers named agabus, whom we have not met before, gave a future prophecy. Agabus signified by the Spirit. By that, I would assume he was a mon on whom the apostles had laid hands and imparted a miraculous measure of the spirit similar to that the Samaritans received. Agabus received and relayed information through the Spirit about a dearth or famine that would come to pass in the future. The word is Dearth", NOT "drought" indicating dry weather. The word "dearth simply means "famine". It could be caused by a drought or it could be caused by anything else that might bring on famine, e.g. an economic depression. We are not told how far in advance this information was given BUT Luke points out it did come to pass, undoubtedly as prophesied AND we are given the time when the "dearth" occurred. Claudius Caesar was the Roman Emperor from A.D. 41 to A.D. 54. Thus, the reference to time is very general but it does tell us the time that Luke is now discussing is in the second decade after Pentecost. By the very nature of the geography we can see Judea would be more likely affected by dearth than that part of Syria where Antioch was located. Judea was farther south, it was a mountainous region, the population was more dense and the inland parts had little opportunity to participate in foreign commerce. When this is compounded by the fact the Jews might use this opportunity, when supplies and provisions were scarce to further their persecution of Christians it was obvious the brethren in Judea would likely suffer from such a natural calamity to a greater degree than others. Thus, according to v.29 the brethren at Antioch, "determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea." It is not clear what they sent; whether it was money, staples of food or other items; most likely money. V.29 is very interesting because it gives the principle by which individual Christians contributed to the relief program for the Judean brethren, "every man according to his ability." This is the same way the disciples at Jerusalem had operated before the persecution you will recall. They had all things common. Those who possessed lands and houses sold them and those who were impoverished were supplied according to their need. Barnabas here, was one of those who was evidently in a position to contribute heavily in those days.
Obviously this is the same principle we are instructed to follow today. "Upon the first day of the week let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him." I Cor. 16:2. The principle is stated again in II Cor. 8:12-13 like this, "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. For I mean NOT that other men be eased, and ye be burdened." You will observe, I trust, THAT is neither tithing or giving a tenth of one's income according to the Mosaic law nor is it the 10 % principle established by many denominational organizations today. The scriptural principle, we are here taught, is far more equitable and meaningful. It fosters love and promotes fellowship in a positive way. Thus, the example of those brethren at Antioch, is recorded as one more testimonial to the scriptural plan. V.30 discloses, the plan at Antioch was carried out and Barnabas and Saul were selected to carry their bounty to Jerusalem and Judea. It is significant to note, the elders of the church(s) in Judea were made responsible for the distribution. And it goes without saying, "distribution was made unto every man according as he had need." (Acts 4:35). O.K. that's another chapter of our adventure called Acts harvested for our personal guidance. Thus Barnabas and Saul were in Judea at the close of Acts c. 11. We will begin our next lesson with ch.12. Now, I don't want to get into deep discussion here; but, I simply point out the Judean relief project mentioned in v.29 of our lesson today: IS USED as a precedent today for sending relief from one congregation to another. And in my judgment some have drawn conclusions from this that go beyond what was intended. For example, it is said ALL BENEVOLENCE must be sent DIRECTLY from the elders of one congregation to the elders of another congregation. Then they teach the same rule CANNOT be applied to sending missionaries or supporting missionaries. They say a congregation must deal DIRECTLY with the man they are supporting as a missionary. In their view (this precedent) rules out a "SPONSORING CONGREGATION" i.e. one congregation could not collect from two or more other congregations and then carry out a project. You must, of course, make up your own mind on this point. I simply point out you will find deep disagreement on methods, where they appeal to these verses (and others) for justification. Personally, my judgment IS these verses at the end of Acts 11 DO NOT touch the "Sponsoring congregation" concept. And therefore do not rule out its use. But, I toss this AT you for another reason. Namely, to cause you to think and analyze the context here more deeply. AND, I ask you: What really happened there at Antioch? After the collection was taken at Antioch, where did they send it (v.30) by the hands of Barnabas and Saul? Now, we learned in Acts 9:31 many congregations (there called churches) existed in Judea, Galilee and Samaria. Now, Antioch "sent relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea? According to v.29. We have not covered elders at this point, but, we'll come to that in future chapters. But in v.30 it is clear Barnabas and Saul gave it to the elders. Now, the question is: Which elders? Was this the elders of every little congregation scattered through Judea? OR, did Barnabas and Saul take it to the elders of the church at Jerusalem (which incidentally was located in Judea) who then redistributed the relief to other congregations? I do not know which way they did it. According to v.27 Agabus and the other prophets came from Jerusalem. According to Acts 12:25 Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch from Jerusalem. Thus, we have no evidence they went any place other than Jerusalem. But they MAY HAVE! Now, if they took it to the Jerusalem elders for redistribution to other churches in the area; THEN, we have approved example of a "sponsoring congregation" i.e. receiving and redistributing to OTHER congregations. If Barnabas and Saul took the relief to the elders of the many congregations, then we have an approved example of DIRECT dealing from congregation to congregation as some insist. O.K. enough said! Just wanted you to see these things can get complicated. We must be a stickler to do things scripturally. But, we must NOT operate on assumptions. Reread it, it'll do you good.